A Memorial Day 2020 Letter to Civilians
This may be the strangest Memorial Day in memory for most people but in some ways, it is the most appropriately symbolic for Gold Star families. People frequently ask what Gold Star means, and while it saddens us they don’t know, it is easy to answer:
A Gold Star is a family member of a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Coastie or Guardsman who has lost their life in our Nations’ wars.
What is usually harder to explain is what it means to be a Gold Star. This year because of the strangeness, it is easier to describe.
The entire world is experiencing something, but you are alone.
The entire world is struggling with how to connect to others, but you are isolated.
The entire world thinks whatever is going on in their lives is significant, dramatic, nearly unendurable but you feel they really don’t understand the meaning of those words.
The entire world is waiting, with fear, trepidation, worry, over what is coming next, what could make these unimaginable circumstances worse, but that is and has been your reality every day for months, years, decades.
The entire world is hoping things will get better, will get easier, but is afraid to hope too much as the pain of that hope not being fulfilled would be too much to bear.
The entire world is talking about the new normal of our future, but you know there is nothing normal about your future.
The entire world is talking about a virus that has fundamentally altered the way we live our lives but is, ultimately, temporary. You are talking about something that is forever, unalterable, permanent.
Gold Star families do no want your pity. Gold Star families simply want your understanding, and from that understanding, remembrance.
Memorial Day is a day of contradictions. On the one hand, the intent and purpose is to honor and remember all those who have lost their lives in our Nations’ wars; on the other hand, it is a call to recognize all that we are, all that we have, is due to the selfless sacrifice of others by celebrating, yes celebrating, the gift their lives bought. Facing this seemingly incomprehensible mix of pain and pride is something Gold Stars do every day. That is the definition of our permanent new normal.
This year as you remember Memorial Day celebrations of the past with loved ones and are upset over what you are missing, you are getting a glimpse of what Gold Stars feel not just on Memorial Day but on all the days of the calendar. Over the coming weekend, you’ll probably spend time talking about, or just thinking about, past celebrations with friends and loved ones. You’ll think how much you miss them and console yourself by looking forward to making more memories of laughter, shared meals, time together. For Gold Stars, there is no looking forward. All there is, all there will ever be, are memories. This is the hardest part of being a Gold Star, this loss of future memory making.
On this Memorial Day that is like no other in history, Gold Stars ask that as you remember the celebrations you are missing, take just a moment and reflect on the true meaning of the day. Take a moment and look up the name of a Fallen Hero from your area, from this war or wars past. Find a name and learn something about that Hero. Then, tell someone else what you’ve learned.
It is said that a man dies twice, the day he takes his last breath and the day his name is said for the last time. When you say their name, when you tell someone else, you are helping them live on. There is something else this learning and remembering does, something most never realize.
The hardest part about being a Gold Star is the loss of future memories. But when you say their names and tell their stories, you are creating a new memory of our loved one. That would tell us, more than any monument or parade or even heartfelt sympathy that you recognize, cherish and want to pass forward the gift our Fallen Heroes gave us all.
Say their names. Learn something about who they were. Tell their stories. Cherish the gift they gave you.
When next year comes and you are back at the beach, the BBQ, the mall, enjoying the kickoff to summer that is Memorial Day, remember what you did on this Memorial Day. Remember what it felt like to be isolated in the middle of a city, disconnected from everyone, missing not only your loved ones but who you are when you’re with them. This is the price Gold Star families pay for the gift their Fallen Heroes gave you. We are saddened that everyone is getting a glimmer of what it is like to be us. We will be happy for you when your normal returns, and grateful for the deeper understanding of us you’ll hold.
The final thing Gold Stars want you to understand is how to honor our loss, the sacrifice our loved one made on our collective behalf. Really, it is quite simple, and you can start by recognizing what was conveyed in this letter. By doing that, by remembering, by honoring. By being worthy. Be the kind of American who is worth dying for, who is worthy of the gift our Fallen Heroes secure for us all.
Here’s wishing you a Happy Memorial Day, this year and in all the years to come,
Denise Williams Gold Star Mother of PFC Andrew Meari KIA 11/1/10, Afghanistan
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